Mounting pressures on A&E units added to by repeated visits

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

Results from a BBC Freedom of Information Act request have revealed that nearly 12,000 people in the UK made more than 10 visits to the same A&E unit over 183 separate sites in 2012-13.  Just over 150 of these people had attended more than 50 times.

Repeated visits by individuals are contributing to the mounting pressures on A&E units across the UK this winter.  The figures raise questions about whether it is appropriate for some of these individuals to be visiting A&E units and whether it would be more appropriate for further support in the community to be provided to ease pressures on A&E units.

Dr Cliff Mann, from the College of Emergency Medicine, said there were a variety of issues that led patients to become frequent visitors to A&E units.  These include mental health issues and problems such as drug and alcohol abuse.  Better support in the community for people suffering with these issues could reduce their frequency to visit A&E units.

He also highlighted that some people visit A&E due to previous good experiences with the service.  While suggesting that those who struggle with a language barrier may find it harder to navigate around the UK’s health system and so use A&E as a default.

He added that “at a time when emergency departments are very busy, it is clear that repeat non-emergency attendees are adding to the pressures.”

Commenting on the results, Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said “These figures are of great concern and provide yet more proof that our already overstretched A&E services are being put under increasingly severe strain.  It needs to be recognised that every inappropriate attendance at the A&E would detract health professionals from attending to the genuine and often life-threatening emergencies.”

A spokeswoman from NHS England put the figures in context by stating “The figures presented here suggest that the number of people attending A&E frequently is relatively small when considered against the big picture.”  She noted that more than 21 million visits to A&E units occurred in England alone last year.  She added “It is also important that patients and the public know about and use the full range of health services in their local area.  The NHS works hard to ensure people know where to go to get the best care and can use service appropriately.”

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